Periodic Reminder re: Advertising

It is not cheating or gaming the system to advertise your books.

There are absolutely people out there who engage in shady practices with respect to advertising (I’m looking at you people who send fake clicks against books that use the keywords you want to use), but the mere act of using, for example, Facebook ads, does not make you some sort of cretin that can’t even be assigned a name because you’re such an insult to real authors whose books fly off the shelves all on their own.

I wouldn’t still be publishing if I hadn’t managed to get some sort of grasp on advertising. Because I wouldn’t have sold anything more than a handful of copies here or there and I would have quickly decided that there were better ways to spend the hours of my day than putting up my books that I’d spent hundreds of hours on and only hearing crickets.

Some people don’t need advertising. They write something that readers are actively looking for and where there isn’t enough competition to drown out their visibility. They started in trade-pub and have a pre-established audience that’s waiting for their next book. They have a lot of well-connected friends who like them enough to get the word out about their books. They hustle in some other way that gets them in front of readers.

But if you don’t fall into one of those categories, it is actually okay to learn AMS or FB ads and use them to promote your books. Do not let other people’s skewed perceptions make you fail.

This post triggered by a comment that may not have even been meant the way I read it, but also by the many, many times I’ve seen a forum discussion where the implication was that “real writers” don’t have to advertise.

Ah, Planning Time

I usually sit down at the beginning of the year and set up some goals for both personal and business so that I have some sort of direction heading into the new year. Because of how the year started, I was a little behind on doing so and only sat down to think about that today.

(Not that I don’t have a running list of possible projects at all times, but this is usually the time of year when I try to at least pick one or two. Especially since some of those projects have been on that list for years now.)

Every year I ask myself, “If you could only write one more book, what would it be?”

Because that’s a good way to choose what to write if you want to accomplish something meaningful, right? Pick the one that matters the most to you.

Except…I never have an answer to that question.

I don’t have that “one” book that I’ve always wanted to write. When left to my own devices I tend to do something like write a book about an obscure software most people won’t use and for a niche audience on top of that. (Hence, Affinity Publisher for Fiction Layouts.)

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed writing that book and I’ve enjoyed writing the other ones like it that I’ve written over the years, but if someone did an exit interview with me at the end of my life, I probably wouldn’t list that book or any of those others as a life accomplishment.

So then I usually turn to the money approach.

What have I written that did well enough that I should write more of it? And that does sometimes work. Some of my more profitable titles have come from that approach.

Although most series have diminishing returns after a certain point unless you’ve really hit on something special. You can keep advertising the series, but people will fall off at certain predictable points in the series so that the number of readers who make it to Book 10 are almost never the same as the number of readers who read Book 1.

And sometimes there’s just no more to say or write about it. The couple got their HEA, the ultimate bad guy is dead, or it stretches believability to think that yet another person could possibly die in that quaint little village of a hundred people and in such a way that the only person who cares about it is the retired school teacher who now runs a knitting club.

That author can certainly write more. And in that genre or adjacent to that genre to try to keep those readers, but the series has seen its end. And not all readers will move to the new series.

Plus, not every author wants to keep writing the same thing, even if it is profitable.

The third option is the “shake it up” approach where you look at everything you’ve already done, decide that more of the same won’t get you where you want to be, and venture off onto a completely new path.

Depending on the path, that can be great. Or not.

I know more than one author who saw exponential improvement by switching genres. I’ve also known many who’ve found that non-fiction in an area of expertise they have has done far better than any of their fiction. But I also know of more than one author who switched tracks and saw even worse sales than before.

A side version of this is the new format/new platform goal. I’ve made goals in the past to list all my books on X site or to put out books in audio or print or large print. Sometimes that’s been a really good use of my time. Other times, not so much.

I was looking at audio sales the other day and I have one series that doubled my money and one that I might as well have never bothered with because it will never earn back its cost. Same with large print. Worked a treat in one genre, but a dud in another.

Bottom line is that sometimes it’s just a crap shoot and you can’t know what the dice are going to give you. Or how the world is going to change underneath you.

Which is why I usually go through this exercise, make goals to publish whatever I was working on in December so I do hit at least one goal for the year, make a few extra goals to have something to aim for for the year, and then completely ignore them but somehow end up hitting about 75% of them while also doing another two or three projects that weren’t even on my radar at the beginning of the year.

Honestly, the goals that work best for me are actually ad spend goals. I determine to spend $X per month on advertising my books which ensures that no matter what I decide to write for the year, I focus on promoting it and/or what I’ve already written and do so consistently month-to-month.

Whether that comes from AMS or a Bookbub feature or FB ads or a free first in series run doesn’t matter. It forces me to keep some sort of momentum. And if I find that no advertising works for anything I have, I can then brainstorm new covers, new titles, new categories, new blurbs, new audiences, etc. until I do get something that works.

Obviously, if you’re new to setting an ad spend goal like that, start small. You should build up to higher ad spends only after you know that what you’re doing will actually generate profitable sales.

So there you have it. My super exact approach to annual planning. One you may not want to actually follow. Haha.

The Grind Stage

A few weeks back (maybe, what is time anymore) I watched a Wharton seminar where they interviewed a couple of very successful entrepreneurs. And one of the comments from that session was that to succeed in business you need a lot of persistence.

I think about that often. (I also think about Seth Godin’s The Dip often.)

Because probably any successful venture has what I’m going to refer to as the grind stage. You’ve started out, you’ve chosen a direction, and now you have to get to the top of the mountain. Which is a bunch of putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward.

I hiked a 14’er once. (That’s a 14,000 foot mountain.) We had to go up 3,000 feet in elevation to get to the top. I was not in good shape. I wasn’t in bad shape, but it was not an easy hike for me. The guys I was hiking with were in good shape. This was not their first. And they eventually left me in the dust.

But I got to the top. By pushing through each and every single step forward. Literally. Sometimes on that hike I would take only three steps before I paused for another breath.

But I got there eventually.

Was it worth it? Yeah, probably. The view at the top was gorgeous. I recovered after a few days. And I can always say I did it. No one can take that from me.

But to get there I had to go through the grind stage.

Publishing I think is like that, too. Or maybe on a broader scale, being a writer is like that.

You have those early bright moments. That first book in your hands. That first person who loves it. That first big promo that gets you that pretty best-seller tag for an hour. That first fan email asking for more.

But then the shine kind of wears off.

Sure, more people love it, but some don’t, right? Or you get another promo and you’re happy to get it, but you know that as high as you’re flying today, you won’t be tomorrow.

Or maybe you get the fan email that says they’re never going to read you again because you took too long to write the next book or you killed their favorite character or you included the wrong kind of character or whatever their personal peccadillo is.

That’s where the rubber meets the road. That’s where you have to show your mettle. When it’s not shiny and fun and new anymore and there’s 2,500 feet of mountain still to go to get to the pretty view.

That’s the moment when you need to put your head down and force yourself to take the next step. That’s the moment that sets apart those who make it to the top from those who don’t.

(Unless, of course, you’re really not on a path to the top of the mountain at all, which, well, yeah, that happens, too. What’s that they say about the journey being worth it? It better be, because you may never get anywhere you were trying to go. Haha. Sigh.)

Anyway. Perseverance. It has to kick in at some point if you want to make it somewhere that’s hard to reach.

(This post brought to you by my first box set promo with Bookbub that’s coming up tomorrow. I actually felt a little shiver of excitement about it today and realized how rare those moments have become now that I’m in the grind stage. The first in series has had a handful of Bookbubs at this point, but this will be the first one for the box set. Fingers crossed it does well even though there’s nowhere for readers to go because I sit around having deep thoughts or taking side paths into mountain meadows instead of writing the next damned book.)

Video Courses and Affinity Templates

Those who’ve been around here a while may remember that at one point I had Excel for Beginners, Intermediate Excel, and the Easy Excel Essentials content (Printing, Formatting, Pivot Tables, Charts, IF Functions, and Conditional Formatting) available as video courses through Udemy.

I pulled those courses when they introduced a nonsensical tax form that I couldn’t fill out. But I still had the videos. And when I went back and looked at them this week, they were actually good.

They use the whole “I will tell you, then I will show you” approach which is not my personal favorite, but it is theoretically the best way to present information for a large audience, so that’s why I did them that way.

Anyway. I have now added those videos to the Teachable store I set up. So if you prefer to learn visually that is now an option. Use code MLH50 on Excel for Beginners or Intermediate Excel to get those half off. The individual Easy Excel Essentials courses are also available for just $15 a pop.

I expect I will add more video courses. I’ve started prep for an Excel formulas and functions course and know I definitely want to do that one to complete that series of videos, but not sure what will come next. So if there’s some topic you’d really like to see covered, now is the time to let me know. No guarantees I’ll cover it, but if it was already on the list it may move higher.

Also, when I put together the Affinity Publisher for Fiction Layouts content, I decided to put templates that people could download up on Payhip. So if you want an Affinity Publisher file that already has the master pages and text styles created that’s where you can find them. It saves some time, for sure, but you still absolutely need to know the basics of working in Affinity Publisher for a print layout to effectively use them. They’re not for an absolute novice.

Alright then. That’s it. Hope you’re all doing well.

Affinity Publisher for Fiction Layouts

I mentioned my newest project the other day and it’s now done. Affinity Publisher for Fiction Layouts is available in ebook, print, AND video.

So what is this book about? Can you guess from the title?

Basically, it walks a new user through how to use Affinity Publisher, one of the Affinity suite of products, to format a fiction title.

I actually started using Affinity Publisher for my non-fiction because I ran into an issue with using Word where the resolution of the images that exported into PDF weren’t what I wanted them to be and the only way to fix it was to use a paid Adobe product.

I’d heard a lot of buzz about Affinity so decided to give it a try and loved it.

They have great instructional videos on their website which is what I used to learn the program, but for me the videos just weren’t in the order I needed them to be. So I was 80% of the way through them before I knew that they covered everything I needed. Also, there are just certain things that are specific to self-publishing (like exporting All Pages not All Spreads) that trip new users up.

So in my latest “I don’t know what to write next” funk, I sat down and started to write up how to use Affinity Publisher for a print layout.

175 pages and 100 screenshots later, I had a book and hadn’t even touched upon how to use it for non-fiction. And then I realized I should probably do videos as well.

Sixty-plus videos later…I now have three video courses listed in addition to the books.

The video courses can all be found on Teachable. And if you use code MLH50 you can get them for 50% off.

Affinity Publisher for Fiction Layouts is the video version of the books. There are about eighteen videos and about 90 minutes of content.

Affinity Publisher Quick Takes is basically a reference library for when you’ve forgotten how to do something and need a quick one-minute refresher. That one currently has fifty videos, but most are a minute or less.

And then there’s a bundle that lets you get them both at once.

I’m new to Teachable so if you see something that looks unfinished, please let me know. There were lots of moving parts on that one.

Anyway, hope this is something someone out there can use. I know I would’ve certainly appreciated having it when I was getting started with Affinity. (Not that I would’ve bought it because I’m that do-it-yourself-as-cheap-as-you-can sort of person, but ya know.)

Knowing me there’ll probably be a non-fiction supplement at some point as well as one for basic cover and ad image design. Hard to believe that there’s still that much content left to cover, but it really is an amazing and versatile program that I’ve found invaluable over the last year.

More Amazon A+ Content Thoughts

I just went through the process of updating some of my A+ content on Amazon so thought I’d share a few additional thoughts.

One, someone pointed out that on mobile the A+ content shows up above the blurb. So if you think you have a really powerful blurb and that’s what sells your books, you may not want to use it. Or may only want to use it on your print titles which may be more likely to be purchased by desktop users.

Two, I found out the hard way that you have to list all versions of the book separate for the content to show up on the product page. So I’d listed my ebook ASINs when I set up my content and had to go back and edit the ads to include my print ASINs.

Three, you can only put the content on books published via Amazon. For example, I have a couple of print books that I only publish through IngramSpark because I want them to have spine text and for those ones I couldn’t add A+ content.

Four, Amazon will automatically copy your U.S. content to the UK, DE, IN, CA, and AU stores for you. All you then have to do is go to each of those stores and click the “show auto-created content” button to show those ads. They’ll be in draft format so you have to go through and submit them for approval, but at least you won’t have to recreate them.

Five, if you do edit a U.S. ad the foreign copies will revert back to draft. This includes adding new books to the listing. So when I added my print books to my A+ content in the U.S. that put all of my foreign ads back to draft. (Good times.)

But, yeah, overall I like it. I’m sure readers that scroll for rank and reviews aren’t as happy, but that’s a very small subset of most readers and probably mostly author-types that do that I’d think.

10 Years/3 Million Words

In early July I finished my 10th year of writing towards publication. Ten years ago I was in New Zealand with some downtime between consulting projects and an injured knee that led me to stop skydiving so I decided it was time to finally try to write a novel. And I did.

Took six weeks. It was awful. Glad I set it aside for another six weeks before I went back to read it so I could understand just how much work it needed. (I tend to under-write, so that novel which eventually was 90K words ended its first draft at 45K words.)

Fast forward to ten years later and I’ve now written 3 million words. Not all of that is fiction, though. About 1.2 million words of that is various non-fiction. And only 1.3 million of that is novels, the other 500K words is short stories.

I hadn’t initially planned on the self-publishing route. Even when I self-published my first non-fiction title, I still expected I’d go the trade pub route for novels.

And, who knows, I may still end up hybrid at some point. But I don’t know. I don’t have the patience it seems is required for the trade published route. The idea that it’s acceptable in the industry for you to submit a query to an agent and wait a year for them to respond just floors me.

And the idea of having someone that non-responsive handle my business interests goes against everything I ever learned in the corporate world. If I am paying them a fee to sell my product, you’d think I’d have more standing with them than it seems most authors do with their agents.

Plus, I’m a control freak. I was recently negotiating a potential publishing contract for non-fiction with a decent publisher I’d be willing to work with, but the clause where they get all my rights and then can enter into any contract on my behalf without any input from me just stops me cold each time. That’s my name and reputation, you’d think I could have a veto on a disastrous contract.

So I don’t know. We’ll see. There are definitely opportunities that I don’t have access to as myself that I would through a publisher, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to negotiate a contract that makes it work for both me and them.

Which leaves me with the self-publishing. I love the freedom to do what I want when I want. And the flexibility to write the stories I want how I want to write them. But those are probably also my biggest dangers with self-publishing, too. Because I don’t do what you need to do to succeed even when I know at least one of the formulas.

(Write in a series that appeals to readers, release on a consistent and regular schedule, brand well for the genre.)

I’ve been lucky. Despite my writing whatever whenever and self-editing and mostly doing my own covers I’m still closing in on a quarter million dollars in revenue and have made over six figures in profit at this point with just about 70,000 paid sales across all my titles.

It’s a lot more than many authors manage. But it’s also piddling compared to some of the others I know who “do it right” and I’m self-aware enough to realize that if I worked longer hours and with more focus that I could probably have done exponentially better. (Because publishing is one of those industries that is very much winner-takes-all. The top titles do very, very well while the majority of titles sell next to nothing.)

Across those ten years I only spent 3,100 hours writing and editing. (Compare that to when I was a full-time consultant and probably worked 60 hour weeks which with 50 weeks a year of work over ten years would’ve come out to 30,000 hours spent working. Obviously there was some administrative time in there for the consulting and the writing and editing is not all I do on the publishing side, but I definitely am nowhere close to working as hard as I did as a full-time consultant.)

So what to do now? Keep going? My profit has gone up every year so there’s indication that if I keep writing and publishing I can keep growing that profit.

Try to focus and do it “right” this time using everything I now know? Even though I’ve done better in non-fiction I’m still firmly convinced that fiction is where the true upside potential lies.

Or step back, let writing be what I do when I have downtime, and take the easier route and pursue consulting again? I’m not one of those people who must write or I’ll die. I’m certainly not one of those people who must publish. And for hour of effort put in the consulting is going to be more financially rewarding 99 times out of 100 for me.

I don’t know. It’s not a simple question. I’ve never been one of those people who wanted one thing in life. And the things I do want–time to read and spend with my dog, family, and friends–can’t be the number one priority or I’ll eventually lose them.

I could spend two years just hanging out reading and walking my dog, but then I’d be broke and two years further away from any skills that would let me not be broke, right? So it’s always a balancing act. And sometimes the repercussions of those choices can’t be seen for years. There are life paths that you step off of that are almost impossible to step back onto later.

But I digress. Anyway. Ten years in. Not bad, not great. No regrets for spending the last decade of my life the way I have, but not sure if I’ll spend the next ten years the same way.

(Actually, I know myself. There’s no chance the next ten years will be like the last ten even if I do keep my focus on the writing. I am simply not one of those people who settles in.)

Ah, Choices

It’s interesting thinking about a “normal” job versus publishing (or really any entrepreneurial venture) because a normal job doesn’t really involve the same number of branching paths as publishing. And I’d say to a certain extent the biggest challenge of publishing is in that freedom to choose so many paths.

Which is not to say that a normal job doesn’t involve choices, especially a “professional” job like the one I had right out of college. There were any number of times during the almost decade that I worked for that first company where I had to decide whether to apply for different positions. Did I want to be a manager? Did I want to move to Dallas? Or to DC? Did I want my career to progress or was I good where I was? Should I stay within my department or try to move to a different one? Would getting an MBA help me move up? Should I do that even if it took away from my current job performance?

But the reality is I could’ve not made any choices and still coasted along just fine for years at that company. Once I was hired, all I really had to do was show up and be competent at my job. As a matter of fact, had I been less driven to make choices and want improvement it’s possible I could still be very happily putting along working at that company, still in the office I started out in, earning the type of salary that lets a person have a nice middle-income life with a house, a golden retriever, and 2.2 kids.

(Of course, I’m not that type of person, unfortunately.)

Which leads to publishing where you can be competent at the writing but still fail because you took Path A when Path B was the path to success.

And the reality is that the path to success is not Path A or Path B, it’s Path A-1-c-(2)-f-4.-z. It’s not just one little choice you make once and BOOM success. It’s like ten choices that all have to be made right and then you’re good for a day or a month or a year and if you don’t make the next choice right, well, back to square one.

Like:

Did you write something that will sell?

Did you pick the right path to reach your readers? Trade versus self-pub, KU versus wide.

Did you make the right choices along that path you chose? Good publisher/bad publisher, genre-appropriate cover and pricing, advertising.

Did you pivot when you should have? Did you not pivot and stay the course when you should have?

Did you trust the right people?

Every single one of those is a branch along the path. And every single one can lead to a dead end.

And, sure, you can reverse course. I know fiction authors who tried self-pub and failed and then signed six-figure trade pub deals. I know authors who tried one genre and failed and then tried another and found tremendous success. I know authors who started wide and then went into KU and did very well (to the tune of $50K a month).

But while they were finding that path and backing up and starting over and trying again, no one was paying their bills. Because that’s how entrepreneurship works. All the glory if you succeed, but all the failure and sleepless nights on the way there, too.

I currently find myself living in some sort of fractured reality where publishing comes into play because for at least the first four months of the year, things have been good overall. Really good. I have some series that are doing quite nicely.

And yet at the same time I find myself looking at a couple of my series and thinking, “How did I f you up that bad? And how do I fix it now?” And then thinking, “Ugh, KU. Fricking Amazon and their fricking exclusivity b.s. and distortion of the entire ebook fiction market with their thumb on the ranking scale in favor of their own damned books so that we’ll all cave and go exlucusive with them so they can then burn us down in fire five years from now.”

But, ya know, that’s just me. Haha. Sigh.

Ah, choices.

It’s Kinda Funny…

That the better I do at this writing thing the more inclined I am to quit altogether.

Sometime in March I passed a big milestone revenue-wise and probably hit one profit-wise and also came within spitting distance of a new monthly milestone, too.

And for the last few years I’ve earned enough from writing that it would pay a reasonable person’s bills if they lived in a reasonable area and weren’t too extravagant and hadn’t been stuck paying for their own MBA because their former employer pulled a bait and switch on them. (Thanks, George.)

In short, I’m doing better than most and making progress year-on-year.

Not near as well as some, that’s for sure. I think I’ve mentioned before that I know of some authors who are seven-figure-a-year authors and I personally know more than one that makes mid-ten-figures a month and I’m definitely not close to that.

But I’ve been steadily doing better each year. Enough to have some glimmer of hope. Some years are years that “pop” and suddenly I see an 8-fold increase from one year to the next. Others are more steady-risers that increase about 10% or so. But things have trended upward year-on-year as I add more product and figure out what I do that people want to pay for. And I’m doing it at a sustainable pace, too, so it’s not like I’m thinking to myself, “Oh my god, if I don’t work 20 hours a day, seven days a week, this all goes away tomorrow” like some I know.

And yet…

The better I do with my writing, the less optimistic I am about my potential to get to where I ultimately want to go.

I think that’s because when you first start out you think to yourself, “Wow, there are people who make seven figures a year at this. I could be one of those people. All I have to do is try and work hard at it.”

But then you try. And maybe you do work hard at it. But…you don’t make seven figures. Or six. Or five. or four. Or three.

Or you’re like me and you find that you just don’t want to work as hard at it as those other people did. One of the seven-figure authors I know of says she sits down and writes/edits for eight hours a day, Monday through Friday, every week of the year.

Me? I average 10 hours a week. I’m putting in a fourth of the time that woman is. Which is why she publishes 24 novels a year and I published three last year.

Or maybe you do work hard at it. Maybe you do put in those sixteen hour days. But then you put your book out there and…crickets. Or, worse, bad reviews. Or, you get, “Eh, okay, that was sort of good.” Your family and friends pat you on the back and say they enjoyed it. But they never ask for more. Neither do any of the strangers who bought it.

So you find that you’re not one of the crack-cocaine writers. You’re not addictive. People don’t crave what you write. They like it alright, maybe. But they don’t LOVE it. They don’t demand that everyone else read it. They don’t make absurd, unrealistic requests that you get the next book out NOW.

They just, you know, maybe will pick up the next one if it’s there and they can’t find something else they love more.

Those characters and those ideas that were so interesting and fascinating to you aren’t interesting and fascinating to anyone else. Or maybe they would be if your writing were better. You think maybe they would be. But that means that you’re writing isn’t that good right now? And who wants to think that? Especially if you’re a “that one story I’ve wanted to tell forever” writer.

Or maybe you do find fans. And you do work hard enough so you’re putting out enough books that it should work, but then you find out that there’s more to all of this than just writing books. There are so many other people who have written books, too, that you’re lost in the clutter. No one is finding your little adventure novel. No one is taking a taste and getting addicted.

You find out that it isn’t all about writing. You have to learn marketing. And cover design. And how to write ad copy.

Or maybe you have to pay for those things because you’re just not very good at those things. You can write a novel, but not a two-sentence zinger that gets someone to one-click.

And suddenly this thing that was going to make you a good living is costing you money instead. And you get bitter because wasn’t that cover beautiful enough? It if was, why didn’t anyone buy the book? Or why can’t you sell that book for more than 99 cents? Or $2.99? People spend more than that everyday on a cup of overpriced coffee that tastes bitter just to be cool and yet they won’t spend $2.99 on this novel that took you months to write?

And why does THAT book in your genre sell well when it’s so…not yours.

You start out all shiny and new and hopeful and optimistic that you’ll make it to the top. But then…life. And reality. Not everyone makes it to the top. Some barely get started. Some get stuck halfway. Some go up and then come crashing back down.

And the real kicker of it all is that it’s hard to know if you’ve reached the limit of your potential or if this is just a setback.

Is this moment, “Hey, you tried and you gave it your all, but this is as good as it gets.” Or is this the lull before you make that next leap up.

Maybe all you’ll ever be is that so-so writer that people don’t mind but don’t love. Or maybe you’ll turn the dial just a bit, try that next genre or that next idea or that next style of writing or reach that next reader who loves you so much they tell the world to read you, and it’ll all finally fall into place.

The further along you get the more it can start to feel like maybe there’s nothing left to turn.

Sure, you could write more, except…you know you’re not going to write more. You haven’t written more in five years.

Or you could write with more action and less emotion, except…that’s not the writer you are. If you want to do something that isn’t you there’s a nice comfy corporate job that comes with health insurance that’s a lot easier to do and doesn’t result in strangers on the internet making conjectures about your childhood.

You could write shorter. Or write longer. Switch genres. Learn how to be likeable online. Except…That’s not you. You know that maybe that’s how others succeeded, but…you aren’t them.

So then what do you do?

Do you try one more time? Or do you call it? Turn the dial or walk away? Because, really, life doesn’t have to be this hard. Does it?

Focusing On the Right Goal

This is a writing-related post, so if you’re not interested in that, now’s the time to bail.

When I first started self-publishing there was a lot of talk about two things: how many copies someone had sold (a million copies!) and whether they’d hit six-figures.

Which are both great and wonderful things to talk about, but as I discuss in detail in Data Analysis for Self-Publishers, can be the wrong metrics to focus on. You can sell a million copies and not make a living from your writing. You can also have six-figures a year in revenue and not making a living from your writing.

The number of copies sold ignores what those copies were sold for, and selling a million copies at 99 cents is going to have a vastly different outcome from selling them at $4.99. And, of course, if you pay too much for advertising then all the sales in the world aren’t going to make a difference if you lose money on each one.

(Which is not to say I don’t believe in advertising. I absolutely do. I just believe in advertising for a profit. If you can’t advertise and be profitable then you need to change your ad strategy, change up the cover etc on what you’re advertising to make it more desirable, or write something new that you will be able to advertise at a profit.)

But that’s not what prompted me to write this post today. I’m currently in a Facebook group that is focused on selling books everywhere, not just Amazon. And there was a recent product release of a sales tracker that provides these pretty little circular graphs with each store in a different color. Members of this group LOVE to post those photos and talk about how “isn’t it great that Amazon is only 40% of my sales?”

Every single time I see one of those posts, I wince. Because it’s focusing on the wrong metric. One of the ones I saw this week, the person was proud to have Amazon as only 50% of their revenue but they’d also only made $70 on Amazon. You can’t live on $140 a month.

To be clear, I am a strong advocate for being wide because as I told someone a few months ago I have no desire to contribute to the collapse of the self-publishing ecosystem by placing all of the power in Amazon’s hands. As soon as they can they will fuck us all over. So if I want to be able to self-publish five years from now or ten and make any sort of money from it, I need to be part of there being viable competition for Amazon.

But the reality is that Amazon, especially in the U.S., is the single biggest sales platform for self-published authors. We don’t get into bookstores that often. So our sales are coming from Amazon, Kobo, Nook, Google, and Apple primarily. And for U.S. sales, Amazon is probably 75% or more of that market.

So even being wide, I expect Amazon to be a big chunk of my revenue. That’s why every single time I see one of those posts in that group I wince. Because the goal should not be to replace Amazon with the other stores. It should be to keep or grow your Amazon revenue while ADDING the other stores on top of that.

What I want to see is bar graphs or line graphs of increasing revenue. “I went wide and my income went from $1,000 a month to $1,500 a month.” That’s being successful wide.

(And, let me tell you, that’s probably not what most could say. Again, I am all for being wide, but the reality is that Amazon is set up to advantage exclusive authors in about a dozen ways so most authors who go wide take a financial hit. And those who start wide have no idea what they’ve sacrificed by being wide.)

Look, this is a hard business. You have to take every win you can find to keep yourself going. I celebrate the units sold. I celebrate the revenue. I celebrate the good months on each platform. (Thank you, Apple, for what I suspect was a recent feature of a free run I did on my fantasy series.)

But at the end of the day what I have to ultimately focus on is the things that pay my rent. That bottom line number of profit and loss. That’s what will let me keep doing this long-term. None of the rest of it will. It’s part of it, but if the bottom line isn’t good enough? The rest doesn’t matter.

So, please, don’t let yourself be distracted by pretty graphs.